Government regulations continue to provide compelling reasons for educational institutions to scan and archive their student records. FERPA, No Child Left Behind, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and other document management regulations require you to be able to quickly produce records, whether requested by current or former students, parents, employers, or the government itself. Regardless of the reason, managing electronic student files is much easier than having to hunt for, copy and fax paper files. How do you implement electronic student records given today’s increasingly tight budgets?
Schools have two main choices when approaching the digitization of student records. On one hand, you can completely outsource the entire project and process to an experienced document scanning company. On the other hand, you can manage the entire process internally, from the acquisition of scanning hardware and software to the physical document prepping, scanning and indexing. You can also go with a combination of the two, such as outsourcing the scanning of your backfile (old paper records) and capture new records electronically with e-forms. In order to select the best approach for your school, let’s first examine the strategy and broad technology decisions needed to comply with government regulations and produce student records efficiently and cost-effectively.
What Are The Rules?
When you first start playing any game, the first question is always, “What are the rules?” There are two approaches to understanding all the federal and state regulations that determine what documents need to be kept and for how long. The first is to find another school just like yours that already has a successful strategy and then find out how they arrived at their policy. (You won’t get suspended for copying another’s work in this case.) The second method is to find a document management company that has extensive experience in document archiving, and have them work with your legal team to draft a strategy. Many document imaging companies have experience determining these strategies, especially if they have worked with other school districts.
However you do it, the goal is to create a document that outlines the strategy for the best way to store and access your records. It should be reviewed regularly, in light of the ongoing changes to federal and local regulations.
DIY or Outsource Scanning Your Records? (Or Both?)
Now that you have your record retention rules in place, who is going to do the work? There are two aspects to consider. The first is how to manage existing paper records and the second is how to manage new records.
How to manage existing student records has a lot to do with the records themselves. If they are old and fragile, if you have thousands or more and if you also have microfilm or microfiche, it probably makes sense to outsource the scanning of these records. This will help you avoid the special handling and equipment needed to scan these documents effectively and without destroying them—which is likely cost-prohibitive if you were to trying doing it yourself.
On the other hand, if your paper records are in good shape and you have a relatively small number of them, it may make sense for you to scan them yourselves. To determine what kind of scanner hardware and document capture software is necessary, you will want to work with a document scanning company that can identify, implement and train your staff on the right document imaging solution.
What to Do about Day-Forward?
For future records, you will want to consider electronic form or “e-form” technologies that can capture information electronically so you never have to worry about scanning paper originals. Over time, e-forms will dramatically reduce the time needed to process information and find it later.
Regardless of how your records get into the system, you need to determine where these electronic documents will reside and easily be accessed—otherwise known as a document management repository. Your two primary document management choices are to have them reside in your current IT infrastructure, possibly with the addition of archival storage just for this purpose, or to have them stored in a virtual file room in the cloud. Because budgets are getting tighter and its security is extremely tight, many schools are taking advantage of cloud document management to avoid capital expenditures and to take advantage of 24/7, web-based access to student records. Either way, your document management solution needs to fit your IT strategy and capabilities, and be easy to use for your staff–make it easy to use, and user adoption rates will be high.
Ensure Success through Experience
One way to assure success in these endeavors is to find an experienced partner that you can work with in both the short and long-term. These scanning and document management solutions usually start in one department and then spread throughout the entire school district when you consider the cost savings that they generate. By deploying a paperless environment, you will ensure government compliance as well as reduce your need for (and costs of) copying machines, paper, toner and, most importantly, space needed for storing paper records.